The Ring of Fire is a string of volcanoes that dot the edges of the Pacific Ocean; it is the most seismically active region in the world.
Geologists are theorising that tectonic plates are shifting around Indonesia and that there may be some imbalances and shifts. At least that is one of the theories being posited to explain the recent spate of earthquakes from Lombok to now, Sulawesi.
About 90% of all earthquakes strike within the Ring of Fire. Parts of Southeast Asia that are in the ring have been roused and rumbling lately, causing death and destruction. But this is hardly new.
Here’s the low-down on some of the major earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in the region.
1. MOUNT ASAMA JAPAN, 1783
DEATHS: ESTIMATED – 1,500
VOLCANIC EXPLOSIVITY INDEX (VEI) – 4
If there is one volcano to watch out for, it’s this one. Mount Asama is regarded as one of the most active and volatile volcanoes in Japan with 134 confirmed eruptions – the most recent being just 3 years ago. Eruptions began on 9 May 2015 and continued till late July when a huge ash cloud formed, accompanied by thunder and lightning. It culminated in a giant explosion on 5 August which could be heard 300 kilometres away.
2. UNZEN JAPAN, 1792
VEI – 2
This eruption epitomises the saying “small but powerful”, the force of which killed many. After an initial eruption. The shaking triggered a landslide from the Mayuyama peak, a 4,000-year-old lava dome rising above the city of Shimabara, and it swept through the city and into Ariake Bay, triggering a tsunami which devastated nearby areas that claimed close to 10,000 lives.
3. TAMBORA INDONESIA, 1815
DEATHS – 92,000 TO 100,000
VEI – 7
It was called the “Year Without a Summer”. Many volcanologists regard the Tambora eruption as the largest and most destructive eruption in recorded human history as it expelled 150 cubic km of ash, pumice and 60 megatons of poisonous sulfur into the atmosphere. As it mixed with atmospheric gases, it created a huge sun shield that brought the average world temperature down to as low as 3°C. This created worldwide famines across Europe and America.
4. GALUNGGUNG INDONESIA, 1822
DEATHS – 4,011
VEI – 5
The eruption of Mount Galunggung was a triple threat of nuée ardentes (highly destructive, ‘burning’ ash clouds), mudflows and volcanic lightning. It killed over 4,000 people and destroyed 114 villages. The impact of the hot and very fine ash which rained down from the clouds is still felt to this day as land surrounding the volcano, once covered by vegetation, has become barren. Galunggung is still an active volcano.
5. KRAKATOA INDONESIA, 1883
DEATHS – 36,417
VEI – 6
This famous eruption, the second largest in Indonesia behind Tambora, caused more than 36,000 fatalities from the devastating tsunami that destroyed everything in its path, hurling ashore coral blocks weighing as much as 600 tonnes. Some 165 coastal villages were swept away. The devastation inspired the 1969 movie Krakatoa, East of Java (they changed the geographical location of the volcano in the movie).
6. KELUD INDONESIA, 1919
DEATHS – 5,110
VEI – 4
Mount Kelud (or Kelut) has a reputation for being one of the most active and treacherous volcanoes in Indonesia. Due to the presence of a crater lake on the stratovolcano, it is prone to lahars. It killed over 5,100 people when water ejected from the crater lake formed lethal lahars that travelled nearly 40km and destroyed more than 100 villages.
7. MOUNT PINATUBO PHILIPPINES, 1991
DEATHS – 740
VEI – 7.8
This supervolcano erupted after a 400-year slumber and gave nearby inhabitants a rude awakening. Small earthquakes occurred beneath Pinatubo from April to early June that year, spewing out thousands of tons of noxious sulfur dioxide gas. The gas combined with ash and circled around the stratosphere, spreading over the globe for 12 months. The eruption caused an estimated US$450 million in property damage; 8,000 houses were destroyed.
8. INDIAN OCEAN EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI, OFF THE WEST COAST OF SUMATRA INDONESIA, 2004
DEATHS – 227,898
MAGNITUDE ON RICHTER SCALE – 9.1-9.3
The monster quake caused the entire planet to vibrate as much as half an inch and released enough energy as a 100 gigaton bomb. Indonesia, the worst hit, lost 130,736 lives, Sri Lanka followed behind with 35,322, and Malaysia with 68 deaths. There were reports of tsunamis as high as 100 feet and ground slippage that moved up to 50 feet. The quake baffled even scientists. Concerted efforts have been made to develop accurate and sensitive warning systems to be deployed around the world.
9. TŌHOKU EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI JAPAN, 2011
DEATHS – 15,894
MAGNITUDE ON RICHTER SCALE – 9.0
The eruption was a surprise and despite Japan being in an earthquake-prone zone, many scientists did not predict the large quake and tsunami. The earthquake started under the seabed with shaking that lasted 6 minutes.The death toll was high but it is believed that Japan’s advanced warning systems may have saved many.
10. LOMBOK INDONESIA, 2018
DEATHS – 563 TO DATE
MAGNITUDE – 6.9
On 5 August, Indonesia was hit by an earthquake that left at least 350,000 people displaced and death toll of more than 500. Some 2,000 tourists were safely evacuated from the nearby island of Gili Trawangan two days after the earthquake struck. The 543 aftershocks hampered relief efforts making it difficult for survivors to be assisted. Two weeks later, the battered island was hit with yet another 6.9 magnitude quake. This was the biggest earthquake in a series of smaller quakes ranging from 5.5 to 6.3 that struck the island, with reports stating that tremors were felt as far away as Bali.
This was a feature that was originally published in the September issue of UNRESERVED.